More than 1,700 Gold Star family members just got back from Disney World on a trip called the “Snowball Express”—an official program of the Gary Sinise Foundation.
The children and spouses of fallen soldiers were loaded into 15 airplanes and treated to an all-expenses paid five-day vacation in Orlando, Florida.
What a sendoff for families as they board the Snowball Express! @INDairport -> Chicago -> Orlando for a special holiday trip in honor of their loved ones who died while serving our country. @GarySiniseFound @GarySinise @DoubleGee18 @WTHRcom #WTHRSunrise pic.twitter.com/ZWNAfnckBk
— Anna Carrera (@AnnaWTHR) December 8, 2018
In Chicago, the families were blessed with a beautiful sendoff at the airport, with supporters dressed in holiday and other festive gear cheering, clapping, and ringing jingle bells.
At the Los Angeles airport, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived in a helicopter to visit the children, give them presents, and offer a photo opportunity.
“Each one of these children who are going on these airplanes have lost a parent in military services—either combat related or illness or unfortunately suicide sometimes. We wanna take care of these kids and make sure they know we don’t forget,” actor Sinise told KCAL9.
Meanwhile, the Nashville airport came to a complete standstill and the crowd was treated to a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, with military members giving a salute.
I witnessed an international airport come to a complete stop today … At the Nashville airport I walked out into the concourse to this scene @americanairlines was flying a plane full of children who had lost a parent in combat to Disneyworld on an all expenses paid trip and they threw a party for them at the gate❤️But when they announced them over the loud speaker and they lined up to board the plane the whole airport literally stopped and sang the national anthem with military present in salute. Most every person standing around, myself included was bawling at the sight of these kids and spouses who have paid so great a price for our country. To see all of this at Christmas time was so humbling. Seeing the general public in an airport stand still to honor these kids was simply beauitful. @bna_airport #nashville #fallenwarriors Gary Sinise Foundation #america #snowballexpress #christmas Garysinise
تم النشر بواسطة Jen Tringale في السبت، ٨ ديسمبر ٢٠١٨
Facebook user Jen Tringale uploaded a heartwarming video of the scene.
“Most every person standing around, myself included was bawling at the sight of these kids and spouses who have paid so great a price for our country. To see all of this at Christmas time was so humbling,” Tringale wrote.
Sinise’s foundation took over the Snowball Express in 2017 but Sinise has supported the program for years. It “helps families of the fallen heal, learn, and build lasting relationships,” according to the website. American Airlines is also a sponsor.
Gary Sinise Foundation’s Snowball Express 2018 at Walt Disney World in Orlando this year! A chance to heal, connect with other Gold Star families, and celebrate! 1,722 family members of our fallen heroes at the happiest place on earth. pic.twitter.com/zdE4gcEwiM
— GarySiniseFoundation (@GarySiniseFound) December 10, 2018
“It was the first time since losing my husband that I went five days in a row without crying. Sure, there were a few moments of filling up with tears. However, those were tears of gratitude and pride,” said widow Jennifer Hanson, who participated in the Snowball Express with her 8-year-old daughter.
Jade Penix took her son Desmond on the trip last year and she said it was a powerful experience during a particularly difficult time of year.
“It’s just important ’cause of all of the bonding that we get to do. He gets to find friends who are just like him, and I get to find ones that have lost just like me,” she told KCAL9.
“It’s easier when you find people who’ve gone through the same thing. So it’s an amazing experience, all of the different tributes they have, and all of the different balloon releases where I get to write a message to my husband. It’s amazing.”
Each flag representing the fallen hero of over 600 families attending @GarySiniseFound 2018 Snowball Express event at @WaltDisneyWorld
Thank you to these Gold Star families, our amazing volunteers and all who supported our event. pic.twitter.com/lr0TfBEXx6
— Gary Sinise (@GarySinise) December 12, 2018
Sinise has dedicated many years to causes for veterans, such as volunteering for USO tours, building homes for wounded veterans, or helping people overcome injury or loss.
“A tremendous spirit of volunteerism and giving back to our special Snowball families of the fallen. It’s been a great year. More to come in 2019. We Remember,” wrote Sinise on Twitter.
The actor and director is likely most well-known for his role as Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump.” He also starred in the television series “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” and “CSI: NY,” as well as the film “Apollo 13.”